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Blue Jackets growth being put to test

Columbus looking to rebound from second straight loss following 16-game winning streak

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

COLUMBUS -- This is how fast it can change.

One moment, the Columbus Blue Jackets hold a three-goal lead against the New York Rangers, showing no letdown two days after their 16-game winning streak ended one short of the NHL record owned by the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins. A standing-room-only crowd of 19,001 is chanting at Nationwide Arena.

"C-B-J! C-B-J!"

The next, a puck eludes backup goaltender Curtis McElhinney, who is filling in for Sergei Bobrovsky, who won 14 of the 16 games during the streak. And then another puck goes in. And then, as coach John Tortorella said, the Blue Jackets start to get nervous. And then they play on their heels. And then another puck goes in.

And finally, defenseman Seth Jones flubs a pass at the point.

"Routine D-to-D pass, and it kind of rolls off my stick," Jones said. "I make that play 100 times a game."

Video: NYR@CBJ: Grabner speeds into zone, fires in a wrister

Rangers forward Michael Grabner breaks away and scores his second of the game with 16.5 seconds left. The Blue Jackets lose 5-4 on Saturday, their first back-to-back losses since their first two games of the season.


"Here it is," captain Nick Foligno said. "No one feels good about this game. We haven't had this situation in a while, and so that's why I'm excited about how we're going to answer."

The Blue Jackets play the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday (6 p.m. ET; FS-O, TCN-PH, NHL.TV).

"If we've grown," Foligno said, "we're going to see it."

In the big picture, that's what is important in Columbus: growth.

No one expected the Blue Jackets to win 16 in a row. No one expected them to sit atop the NHL standings almost halfway through the season. They finished 27th last season.

The streak was awesome, the Blue Jackets enjoyed it, and they should have. Their record is impressive: 27-7-4 for 58 points. They have seven more wins and 15 more points than any other Columbus team has ever had 38 games into a season.

Video: NYR@CBJ: Atkinson drills tic-tac-toe setup for PPG

Despite the past two losses, the Blue Jackets are on pace for 58 wins and 125 points. That would be not only the best season in their history, but one of the best in NHL history. The NHL records are 62 wins and 132 points, held by the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings and 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens, respectively.

Needless to say, that's going to be hard to sustain. As well as the Blue Jackets have played, with balanced scoring, great goaltending from Bobrovsky and the League's No. 1 power play (27.2 percent), they have been healthy and gotten some bounces. Well, Bobrovsky can't play every game and sometimes the puck rolls off your stick at the worst time.

The Blue Jackets play 12 of their next 22 games within the Metropolitan Division, the best division in the League this season. The Blue Jackets started 5-0-0 in the division, but after a 5-0 loss to the Washington Capitals on Thursday and the loss to the Rangers on Saturday, they're now 5-2-0, just like that. It's going to get tougher in what Tortorella called the "dog days" of the season and "a very important six or seven weeks that really defines your club."

"That's where you really find out about your team," Tortorella said Saturday morning. "I still can't define us. I have confidence in our team. I certainly trust our team more as I've got to know them more than last year. So I'm looking for good things. But where it goes to, you just never know."

Realistically, the Blue Jackets should regress, at least somewhat. But even if they do, they still have a huge opportunity to have the best season in their history, to start the first period of sustained success in their history, to turn Columbus into a hockey town like never before.

Video: 16 great plays from the Blue Jackets' historic streak

In their previous 15 seasons, the Blue Jackets never won more than 43 games or finished with more than 93 points. They never finished higher than third in their division or seventh in their conference. They made the Stanley Cup Playoffs twice and won but two games. We have seen flashes of what Columbus can be like, but only flashes.

Now comes this young team, some surprising success and so much to watch in the coming weeks.

"We're starting to get as much media as I had in Edmonton," said forward Sam Gagner, a former member of the Edmonton Oilers. "There's definitely a buzz around. That's exciting. You want to be a team that creates excitement. We feel like we've earned the excitement level and the fans have been great all year, so I think that's something that's exciting for us. But you've got to earn it every night."

As Saturday showed.

"I just want us to try to continue to get better in all facets of the game," Tortorella said. "You've got to be really careful. If it gets away from you, it's slippery. It's a very unforgiving league. I just want us to stay on top of things. No matter where we are in the standings right now, there is so much hockey left to be played. We have to have the correct mindset and try to be better every day."

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